Sunday, April 24, 2011

Meditation Study

Mark sent me this BBC article about brain scans of Buddhist monks being conducted to ascertain what happens while they are meditating. This was the first time I've read this kind of description of what happens when someone is meditating, and it sounds a lot like what I do when I'm swimming. But only after I've been out there for a very long time and have exhausted a lot of the other topics of internal conversation such as, "when's the next feed?" or "what's my stroke count?" or  "I hope Mark's not getting seasick!"

Below is the section of the piece that I found most interesting-- the concept that during meditation, the brain seemingly focuses on both internal and external stimuli at once. This says to me that something like physically trying not to drown while daydreaming about a burger and beer at the end of the swim might actually qualify as a meditative state. Who knew?

"The default network churns when people reflect on matters that involve themselves and their emotions.The extrinsic portion of the brain becomes active when individuals are focused on external tasks, like playing sports or pouring a cup of coffee.
"But the networks are rarely fully active at the same time. And like a seesaw, when one rises, the other one dips down.
"This neural set-up allows individuals to concentrate more easily on one task at any given time, without being consumed by distractions like daydreaming.
"Dr Josipovic has found that some Buddhist monks and other experienced meditators have the ability to keep both neural networks active at the same time during meditation - that is to say, they have found a way to lift both sides of the seesaw simultaneously.
"And Dr Josipovic believes this ability to churn both the internal and external networks in the brain concurrently may lead the monks to experience a harmonious feeling of oneness with their environment."

While I don't know that I'd say I feel "one" or "harmonious" with my environment when I'm in the middle of a long swim, I am focused on both internal factors-- "how am I feeling emotionally?" as well as external factors, "is that tanker going to hit us?"-- at the same time, and there is a certain whole, roundness to that state of mind where time ceases to mean much of anything. I don't know that I am meditating out there, but it is definitely a very particular state of mind. And it takes a while to get there. This is why the first couple hours of a long swim typically suck while I'm still very much focused on internal factors. But that usually subsides once I get into a rythmn and my mind relaxes. That's when long-distance open water swimming gets fun and I can dig in and get to the other side. 
This stuff really is mostly mental. As am I, or so Mark tells me with some regularity!

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